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Lawmakers, Environmentalists Spar Over Proposal to “Modernize” Endangered Species Act

An attempt by members of the Congressional Western Caucus to introduce new bills to “modernize” the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is instead seen as a move to gut the act by conservationists. Sponsors of the new bills say the move to promote the new conservation initiatives would allow for more local input and spur more private conservation, but opponents insist the legislation is nothing but a series of “extinction bills.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, one of the sponsors of the bills, spoke out on behalf of the bill and the need for a more inclusive implementation of the ESA.

“Everybody wants to have endangered species protected, but doing it in the right way, where everyone is included in the process,” said Gosar. “Right now locals and private entities really have a prejudice against them.”

Environmental Activists Say Politicians Are Influenced By Powerful Interests

But Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, decried the proposal as “disgusting and repugnant.” He claimed Republican politicians are introducing the new set of bills to pander to environmental polluters and other powerful interests.

He added that Gosar’s bill, for instance, intentionally left out dams and related reservoirs from protection in the new act, even against the knowledge that these water facilities are essential for species like yellow-billed cuckoos and salmon.

Gosar is the chairman of the Western Caucus, which sponsored the bills. He ensured the bills included his STORAGE Act which ensures that “confused and mistaken” designations of critical habitats are not used as protected habitats for endangered species.

Another bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs proposed that the Interior Secretary should be able to remove a creature from the endangered list if an “objective, measurable scientific study” indicates that it is no longer endangered. The studies could come from states, universities or other outside groups.

Director of Sierra Club in Grand Canyon, Sandy Bahr, said the proposal to remove a species from the endangered list was an attempt by politicians that were “just trying to get rid of something that is an inconvenience to them.

The Politics of Endangered Species

“These decisions are supposed to be based on science and not on the politics,” Bahr said. “What Biggs is proposing is to inject more politics into the protection, or lack thereof, relative to endangered species. I would not trust that they (local groups) would be presenting reports or information that was based on the science.”

But the Western lawmakers disagree that the proposed bills are tainted by politics and argue that the intent of their proposed bills is to get politics out of protecting endangered spices. They pointed out that about three percent of the species listed on the Endangered Species Act have fully recovered and should no longer remain on the list.

Environmental advocates argue the ESA has been crucial to saving animals from extinction. Greenwald cited the case of the Mexican gray wolf, which had nearly gone extinct and is listed as endangered on the list. He said conservationists were able to breed the only remaining five in the wild up to a population of now 114 gray wolves, courtesy of the “most successful wildlife conservation law in the world.”

“The gray wolf is an example of why the Endangered Species Act should be stronger, not weaker, as they are proposing,” Bahr said.

Gosar claimed that his constituents are now telling him that the wolves are killing livestock and encroaching on territory where they were never found before.

“Arizona’s got lots of wonderful things, and vistas, and we want to make sure that the critters are there too, because that’s what draws all our tourists from around the world to see,” Gosar said. “When local people are invested in that and they’re a part of the recovery, and the success story, it’s even better.”


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